Monday, April 30, 2012

David was forgiven

“Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’
“Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.’” 2 Samuel 12:13

Over the last few days we’ve looked at various aspects of David’s sin with Bathsheba. It was a defining moment in his life, and is reflected in the tone of the psalms he writes after this point. This was a sin that David knew was a sin, and yet he deliberately went ahead with it. And as if adultery wasn’t bad enough, he added the murder of Uriah (and other soldiers) to the tally. Ultimately God sent the prophet Nathan to speak to David about it, at which point David knew he had do do something.
The law had no provision to cover David’s sin. Both adultery and murder were punishable by death (Ex. 21:14, Lev. 20:10). There was no sacrifice that he could make. He does the only thing he can do: he repents.
Note what happens next. The prophet Nathan tells David, as soon as he repented, that God has forgiven him. That was true for David, and it’s true for us. We see this in David’s reaction: “my tongue will sing of Your righteousness... my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:14-15). (Psalm 51 was written concerning this very event, when Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba.)
However, there’s another important thing to note. David might have been forgiven, but the consequences of his sin still remained. The son that was conceived through his adultery died. His children turned against him and each other: Amnon raped Tamar, Absalom killed Amnon. Absalom led a coup against his father and was ultimately killed in battle. We can’t help but think that these tragedies could have been avoided if David had not sinned in the first place. It is exactly the same for us: our sins are forgiven when we repent, but we are not necessarily freed from the consquences.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

You are the man

“David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’
“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! ...’” 2 Samuel 12:5-7

In 2 Samuel 12 we have the record of how the prophet Nathan confronted David concerning his sin with Bathsheba. He told a parable of a poor man who had a single lamb, and a rich man who had many lambs. One day the rich man was hosting a visitor, but instead of taking one of his own lambs to serve his visitor a meal, he took the lamb belonging to the poor man. David was furious, but Nathan then pointed out that David was the rich man in the parable. He had many wives, but despite all this he took the wife of Uriah.
David pronounces the death penalty on the rich man who took the lamb. However, the Law of Moses already specified what the punishment for this crime was, and it was not death. It was (as David said in v6) to pay back four sheep (Ex. 22:1). However, David had committed adultery and murder, both of which were punishable by death (Ex. 21:14, Lev. 20:10). Thus he pronounces judgement on himself correctly.
David was furious at the arrogance of the rich man Nathan was telling him about, and was filled with compassion for the poor man, yet he never stopped to think about how his own actions would have affected Uriah. He knew that Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife, and yet he still went ahead with what he did (2 Sam. 11:3). Uriah was not unknown to him – he was listed among his best soldiers (2 Sam. 23:39).
Here’s the lesson for us: it is very easy to judge sins in other people, when we are guilty of the same thing. No wonder Jesus said that we need to remove the plank in our own eye before attempting to remove the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3-5).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Uriah was noble

“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.’” 2 Samuel 11:14-15
2 Samuel 11 gives us the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba – the event that would define his life from that point onward (for example, see 1 Kin. 15:5). David tried all kinds of ways to cover up the sin. He called for Uriah to be brought home from the battlefield to Jerusalem, thinking that after he had given David an account of the battle, he would go back to his house. Then, a few months later when his wife’s pregnancy started to show, nobody would think anything of it. But Uriah refused to go home, and instead spent the night at the palace. The next day, David tried again – this time getting Uriah drunk with wine. But he still did not go to his house. After this, David wrote a letter to Joab, telling him to put Uriah in a place where he would be killed in battle. And here’s the thing: he gave this letter to Uriah to be the messenger!
So Uriah carried his own death sentence back to Joab. He could have looked at the letter, and realised what was about to happen, and done something about it, but he was noble – more noble than David at this point. Everything Uriah did was above reproach. But instead of commending him, David found this an inconvenience. Also, Uriah was not the only one to be killed (2 Sam. 11:24). There were other innocent men, besides Uriah, who died because of David’s plan to cover up his sin. Indeed, this was the lowest point in David’s morality.

Friday, April 27, 2012


“As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” 2 Samuel 6:16
Michal was a daughter of King Saul whom David took a liking to in his younger days, when he was serving in Saul’s army. She was his first wife of what would become many, given for the dowry of a hundred dead Philistines (see 1 Sam. 18:20-29). Later, when David had to flee from Saul, she helped him to escape (1 Sam. 19:11-17), but when David’s exile became prolonged, she was given to another man, Paltiel (1 Sam. 25:44). After Saul was killed in battle and David became king, he sought her out to bring her back (2 Sam. 3:13-14).
It was likely that Michal was simply a pawn, a possession in these warring factions between her father’s house and David her husband. She did love David, as evidenced by her willingness to help him escape from her father. But being the daughter of a king, she had a certain attitude that David did not share.
David had grown up as a shepherd boy: the lowest profession in that society. He was the youngest child and was accustomed to serving his father and his older brothers. He had not sought the kingship, but God had given it to him. Above all else, David was a worshipper. He loved to worship God. So when he had the opportunity to bring the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, he worshipped God with all that he had, leaping and dancing in the street. He didn’t care what other people thought of him – but Michal did. To her, even though he was her husband, he was 'King David'. She saw David as a king humiliating himself; David saw himself as a servant worshipping God. It was Michal that paid the price for this attitude. We should take note, and not despise anyone because of how they choose to worship God.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Murder vs. killing

“Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.” 2 Samuel 3:30
Many people struggle withthe apparent contradiction they see in the Bible: that on the one hand, God commanded the children of Israel ‘Do not kill’ (Ex. 20:13, Deut. 5:17), then on the other He instituted capital punishment and also instructed the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child of the Canaanite tribes who were occupying the Promised Land. They also raise the question, what about killing other people in battle?
There are several Hebrew words used for ‘kill’, and they are distinguished based on the intent behind the killing. In today’s verse we have two of them. Joab and Abishai murdered (harag: to smite with deadly intent) Abner, because Abner had killed (muth: cause to die, put to death, kill, slay) Asahel in battle.
The word used in the Ten Commandments is ratsach: to dash in pieces, murder.
Thus in scale of intensity, we have ratsach, then harag, then muth. This progresses from killing with violence and murderous intent, through to impassively putting to death (muth is used quite frequently of God putting someone to death, e.g. Deut. 32:39, also of capital punishment being carried out: Deut. 17:7 etc.).
Here is the situation between Joab and Abishai, Abner and Asahel: Abner had killed Asahel in battle (2 Sam. 2:22-23). It was not punishable by death. However, Joab and Abishai went to Abner in the city, as if to talk with them. But it was a deception; instead, Joab stabbed Abner (2 Sam. 3:27). Their act was cold-blooded murder, and it was wrong.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ambassadors of reconciliation

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
Did you know that once you become a Christian, you now become God’s ambassador? An ambassador is much more than just a messenger or a news reporter. An ambassador is a representative: a citizen of another country who lives in a foreign land, who acts on behalf of the higher authority they are representing. What they say in their official capacity is as if their president, prime minister, or king was saying it.
So too it is with us. We are now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20) in a foreign land (1 Pet. 2:11). We carry the message of our King. When we speak, we have the authority of the King to speak.
But with this position comes great responsibility: to represent God faithfully. How would it look for an ambassador of another country to get caught up in the ways of the place he has been posted to? It has been said that one of the greatest turn-offs for people coming to Christ, is hypocritical Christians: people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. No, our message and our lifestyle must be consistent, and they must be above reproach.
And the message that we bring is that of reconciliation: that God has made a way for people to be brought back into fellowship with Him, through the forgiveness of their sins. God is not angry with them and eager to bring judgement, but His desire is that all might know Him, repent of their sins, and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The purpose we were made for

“Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 5:5
We know that God does nothing without a purpose. But sometimes we can struggle to see His purpose in our own lives. Here Paul tells us the primary purpose for which God has made us: “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). God has made us to live forever with Him.
This purpose then impacts upon how we should live: “So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Since we will live forever with God, being spared from an eternity of torment that we deserve for our sins, doesn’t this make you thankful? Doesn’t it make you want to please God with the new life that He has given you?
And this isn’t all that God has done. He hasn’t simply saved us to the extent of giving us a ticket to heaven, and left us to it. No, He has even more planned for us in this life: “God made Him who had no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). We aren’t just saved to be ‘good people’, but we now have the opportunity to become the very righteousness of God – free from sin. So next time you feel like your life has no purpose, remember these verses: you were created to spend eternity with God.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Touch not the Lord's anointed

“But David said to Abishai, ‘Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,’ he said, ‘the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.’” 1 Samuel 26:9-11
‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ is a phrase we often hear touted today by Christian leaders, usually in response to some criticism on their ministry, or when they feel their leadership is being challenged. It seems, the more un-Biblical things they say, the more they like to use this phrase. It’s used as a magic word to ensure their safety, like children playing tag and calling out ‘Safety!’
David used the phrase ‘the Lord’s anointed’ to refer to Saul, since he was the one that God had anointed to be king over Israel. However, when he refers to ‘touching the Lord’s anointed’, in every instance it refers to killing him. Twice (that we read about in Scripture) David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but both times he declined, saying ‘the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed’. Then, when someone came to David with the news that they had killed Saul, he executed them for having ‘destroyed the Lord’s anointed’ (2 Sam. 1:14-16).
In the Biblical sense, we should not ‘touch the Lord’s anointed’ – in killing anyone. However the phrase does not refer to exposing or reproving a self-appointed ‘apostle’. We are called to be discerning, and if what someone preaches does not line up with Scripture, we should point out their error.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The rapture

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
The doctrine of the rapture is not one that all Christians are aware of – a fact that I was reminded of recently when talking to a colleague. There are two primary passages of Scripture that give us details about the rapture: 1 Cor. 15:50-54 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18. So what is it?
The word ‘rapture’ does not appear in the Bible in English, but the word ‘rapturo’ does appear in the Latin Vulgate. It means to be caught up (1 Thess. 4:17) and refers to the instantaneous change of believers from their physical bodies into their glorified, resurrection bodies. This is not without precedent in the Bible: we read of a similar thing happening to Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kin. 2:11). At the rapture, believers do not die but are instantaneously transformed into their resurrection bodies. At the same time, believers who had died are raised to life and given their resurrection bodies. This is what is called the ‘first resurrection’ in Rev. 20:6.
The rapture is the first stage of the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is what Jesus referred to in Matt. 24:36-44 and parallel passages. There, He tells us that no-one will know the day or the hour of the rapture. There are no prophecies that need to be fulfilled before the rapture can happen. This is not true for the Second Coming, when Christ returns to earth to establish His kingdom (which is preceded by 7 years of tribulation as detailed in Revelation, Daniel, and elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our resurrection bodies

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power...” 1 Corinthians 15:42-43
Take a moment today and think about the human body, and how amazing it is. Look at your hand, and bend each finger one at a time. Reach out and pick something up. The whole body works together, muscles and ligaments. You don’t have to think about which muscles to use. Touch something with the tips of your fingers, and marvel at the sensitivity of the nervous system. Respiration happens without us thinking about it, although we can control it (try holding your breath). We have a system that regulates temperature in the body: producing perspiration, to cool us through the skin, or muscle spasms (shivering) to generate warmth. Or consider the intricacy of the eye, and how the sense of sight is linked to so many other systems – balance, co-ordination, depth perception, etc.
Indeed, our physical bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). But how much more so will our resurrection bodies be! We only have a glimpse of what they will be like (see previous posts here and here), but we know that they will be imperishable (immortal), glorious, powerful, etc. where our physical bodies are perishable (mortal), dishonourable, weak, etc.
The resurrection is what gives us hope as Christians. It is God’s promise to us, that enables us to endure ridicule and persecution in this life. The resurrection is what ensures that God’s original plan for mankind will be fulfilled: that we will spend eternity in perfect fellowship with Him.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The grace of God

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:10
In the first part of 1 Corinthians 15 (the ‘resurrection chapter’), Paul reflects on his own conversion: that God had saved him although he was once a violent persecutor of the church. In Paul’s eyes, he did not deserve to be shown kindness by God. He fully realised the value of the grace of God, for without it he would be eternally lost.
The same is true for all of us. We may not have persecuted the church, or had Christians condemned to death, or stood by watching while they were executed (Acts 8:1). But we have all sinned against God in some degree. Some of us can see how God’s grace has rescued us from a lifestyle of sin and destruction. Others of us may see how the grace of God was pre-emptive, sparing us from something. This is the case for me personally: I grew up in a Christian home and have always known God from as long as I can remember. But in the studying I would later do and the professional field I have moved into (scientific research), I can see why God saved me from a young age. If He hadn’t, I may well have developed the same kind of intellectual blindness towards Him that many of my colleagues demonstrate.
So, like Paul, we can all say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ Without God’s grace, we would all be lost. I hope that we can also say, ‘and His grace to me was not without effect.’ This grace shown to us should change the way we live.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jonathan's attitude

“Don’t be afraid,” [Jonathan] said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 1 Samuel 23:17
1 Samuel 23 gives us some events that happened during the time Saul was actively hunting down David and his men in the wilderness of Judea. During this time, Jonathan came to David’s camp and spoke these words of encouragement to him. At this point, the Lord had rejected Saul (1 Sam. 15:23), Samuel had been instructed to anoint David as king (1 Sam. 16:13), David had killed Goliath and been enlisted in Saul’s royal service. After some time, the evil spirit that was tormenting Saul incited him to attack David on several occasions, so David fled. Before he left, he made a covenant with Jonathan, Saul’s son and (humanly speaking) next in line to the throne. But Jonathan knew that he himself would not be king, since the Lord had chosen David and anointed him. Unlike his father Saul, Jonathan did not resent this, but relished the opportunity to be David’s right-hand man when he came to power.
The interesting thing I find from reading this verse, is that deep down Saul knew this too. In 1 Samuel 24 we read how David went down into Saul’s camp one night and had the opportunity to kill him, but did not, instead he took the spear and water jug from beside Saul. There Saul said to him, “I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Isarel will be established in your hands” (1 Sam. 24:20). Saul knew he was resisting God, yet he persisted.
Sometimes we will be in similar situations: where God passes over us and chooses to use somebody else instead. Instead of being envious like Saul and attacking that person, we must choose to be like Jonathan: supportive and encouraging, recognising that it is God who chooses and uses people.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Speaking in tongues in church

“Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Corinthians 14:39-40
The church at Corinth was abounding in one gift of the Spirit in particular: that of speaking in tongues. From the advice Paul gives them concerning it, it sounds like their services could be on par with some of the more pentecostal churches of today. Part of my childhood was spent in a pentecostal church where there were frequent times of ‘free worship’, where everyone could sing, pray in tongues, sing in tongues, do whatever they felt led to. I have no doubt that someone who had never been exposed to this kind of thing before – Christian or not – would have thought the people in that church were crazy. See 1 Cor. 14:23.
The gift of tongues can be a greatly uplifting gift for the one speaking (1 Cor. 14:4). Tongues are a private prayer language by which your spirit can communicate directly with God. But it needs to be used in its proper context. Paul tells us what this is: in a public setting, it is only to be used where there is an interpreter present. In the pentecostal situation described above, we need to recognise what it is: a case of each person who is speaking, edifying themselves (sometimes, with some added hype). Paul – who himself spoke in tongues (1 Cor. 14:18) – instructed the Corinthians to use the speaking gifts of tongues in an orderly way: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (1 Cor. 14:27-28).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reasoning with a child

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
Recently I had a dialogue with a three-year-old boy before church. He was standing near the morning tea table, which had various plates of food people had brought to share after the service. He was holding a plastic cup, and looking at the contents of the table. I thought he must be wanting some more water, so I went over to help.
But of course, he didn’t want more water. He wanted one of those – either the biscuits or the cupcakes, I couldn’t tell which he was pointing at. So I tried to explain to him, ‘Not now, but do you want some more water?’ ‘Not now, the biscuits are for afterwards, you can have one later but not now.’ Eventually I just had to tell him ‘no’ and try to distract him with something else, like asking him to tell me all about the Mickey Mouse on his T-shirt.
This little interaction got me thinking about how God must feel with us sometimes. We can be so insistent about what we want, and think that it’s the best thing for us right now, or that right now is the most appropriate time for us to have it. But God may have other plans. Depending on our spiritual maturity, He might reason with us; but if we are spiritually immature, it could be that He just tells us ‘no’ for now.
One day, we won’t be looking at the spiritual life as a fuzzy image, but we’ll see everything clearly (1 Cor. 13:12). Then we’ll be able to see how God’s plan for us was perfect all along. But in the meantime, we have to trust Him that He knows what He is doing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Should Christians eat halal food?

“If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom by judged by another’s conscience?” 1 Corinthians 10:27-29
We learned in an earlier post about the culture of Corinth, where most of the meat sold in the markets were sacrificed to idols. However, this did not mean that Christians couldn’t eat it, as Paul says, for an idol is nothing (1 Cor. 8:4), and everything in the earth belongs to God (1 Cor. 10:25-26). The fact that the food may have been sacrificed to an idol does not impart any spiritual aspect to it. Jesus taught a similar thing in Mark 7:14-19.
At a first glance, we may think this passage is irrelevant to us, but consider this: more and more today, we are presented with ‘halal food’ options. For example, most of the beef and lamb in New Zealand is slaughtered by specially employed Muslim slaughtermen so that it can be certified as halal for sale in Arab nations. Meat that is halal is not just slaughtered in a particular way, but it is also slaughtered as a sacrifice to the Muslim god Allah.
So right here and now, we have a situation that Paul addressed specifically in his letter to the Corinthians. On the one hand, it is not wrong for a Christian to eat this food, if their conscience permits them. But on the other, if a Muslim friend or colleague invites you to eat some food, and tells you that it is halal, then according to 1 Cor. 10 we should politely decline to eat it. The reason is to be a witness to that person: they make a distinction between halal food that has been sacrificed to their god Allah, and food that has not. By declining the food, it gives you the opportunity to show that you do not worship Allah, but you worship the true and living God.
Can Christians eat halal food? Yes. But should Christians eat halal food? Not if the person offering it to you makes a big deal about it being halal.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fighting in Saul's armour

“Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helment on his head.” 1 Samuel 17:38
In 1 Samuel 17 we have the famous story of how David fought Goliath. The Philistines and the Israelites had drawn up to face each other in battle array. But before engaging, the Philistines offered Israel the chance to engage in representative combat: that is, to have one man from each side fight each other, and decide the battle based on that. Their representative was Goliath, a giant man, one of the Nephilim after the flood (see Gen. 6:4, Num. 13:33, 1 Chr. 20:4-8).
Israel’s obvious choice for a fighter to represent them was Saul. He was a head taller than everyone else (1 Sam. 9:23-24) and had won many battles (1 Sam. 11:11, 1 Sam. 15:7). Yet despite being Israel’s hero, he was unwilling to go and fight Goliath himself. Instead, he sat back and watched as for forty days Goliath came out and intimidated the Israelite army.
When David came to visit his brothers and saw this, he immediately volunteered to go and kill Goliath. Initially Saul tried to dissuade him, saying he was only a boy, but David responded by telling him how he had killed lions and bears who had attacked the sheep he was tending. Saul gave him permission – and then attempted to dress David in his own clothes and his own armour. But David was not a substitute for Saul. He had to do it his own way – without armour, without a sword: just with his shepherd’s sling and a stone from a stream.
Sometimes we will have situations where we’re like David. You’ll volunteer to do something, and somebody who could have done it but hasn’t, will then step in and try to tell you how to do it. Or, you might be the person who has neglected your responsibility, like Saul. The lesson for us is this: do what God has called you to do, in the way He has called you and gifted you to do it. Don’t try to fight in someone else’s armour, and don’t try to make someone else do something your way, if you’re not prepared to do it yourself. God has given each of us different abilities, and we are to use what we have in serving Him.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Knowledge and love

“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1
Knowledge and intelligence are not bad things. God has given each of us a measure of knowledge, some people have more than others. Some people have a phenomenal ability to remember all kinds of things, others are able to quickly and logically piece information together. But like all things, knowledge can be used in the wrong way: when it causes us to become puffed up with pride.
In the Corinthian society, there were idols on every street corner. In those days, most of the animals killed for meat were offered as a sacrifice to some idol. Now there were some in the church at Corinth who (correctly) argued that an idol is nothing, so the fact that this animal had been sacrificed to an idol did not impart any spiritual thing to it – it is simply food that goes into the body and passes out again. But there were other believers who had a hang-up about it. They may have been more involved with this form of idol worship, and eating the meat panged them with guilt – they saw it as a form of idolatry, while they wanted to serve God alone.
Paul teaches an important lesson here. Knowledge is good, but we need to act in love. That means respecting the weaker brother – the one with the hang-up. We are not to try and convince them that their hang-up is wrong, even if Biblically it is unnecessary. For example, if someone in your church is offended because you play secular music in your house, then don’t play it when they come to visit. If someone in your church is offended by your clothing or jewellery, then don’t wear it in their presence. We are to act in love, which builds others up, rather than wounding their consciences.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Calling out to God in trouble

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.” Psalm 107:6
Psalm 107 gives us four examples of people in trouble who called out to the Lord and were delivered. In v4-9 we have people who were wandering in the desert. In v10-16 the people were in prison and being oppressed. In v17-22 are people who rebelled against God and suffered the consequences. In v23-32 are sailors who were caught in a storm. Each time, we see the phrase, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered/saved/brought them out of their distress”, followed by, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men.”
It’s really comforting to know that no matter what kind of trouble we get into, we can always cry out to God for deliverance. This is true even if it’s trouble we got ourselves into, for example, through rebelling against the Lord and engaging in some sin (see Ps. 107:11, Ps. 107:17). God is gracious and compassionate. He is just, which means He must keep His word when He says sin has consequences, but He has also promised to forgive our sins when we repent and seek Him with all our hearts (1 John 1:9). God doesn't have a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. He is always willing to forgive, on the condition that we repent. Then, when we are delivered, we must remember to thank Him for His unfailing love and His wonderful works done on our behalf – not the least of which being the cross, by which we can be reconciled to God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Lord looks at the heart

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Usually this means, give it a chance, what’s inside might be better than what it looks like on the outside. But it works the other way too: sometimes the outside might look magnificent, but the inside is sorely lacking.
This is indeed true for literal books, but of course the main application is concerning people. Because we live in the physical world, we tend to form first impressions about somebody based on their physical appearance. Samuel looked at Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, and saw a tall, attractive man who (in his eyes) would make the perfect king. But Eliab was not the one God had chosen – He had chosen David, the youngest son, because He knew that he had a heart that would seek after God.
So, we can’t see other people’s hearts. In fact, we can’t even see our own hearts, most of the time, unless God reveals it to us (1 Cor. 4:3-4). Here’s a question for each of us: where do we spend our time: on our physical body and appearance, or on our heart? I think it’s obvious which one God would rather have us spend our time on improving.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Saul's disobedience

“But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” 1 Samuel 15:9
In 1 Samuel 15 God gave Saul a task, through Samuel, to completely destroy all the Amalekites for attacking Israel behind when they came out of Egypt (1 Sam. 15:2, see Ex. 17:8-16). Saul went into battle against them, and defeated them, but did not obey the Lord in completely destroying everything and everyone, as God had commanded (1 Sam. 15:3). He and his men kept their king, Agag, alive, and spared the best of the livestock. Later, Saul claimed that this was so he could present them as a sacrifice to God (1 Sam. 15:15). But Samuel – and God – would have none of it.
There are two key words to note here. Firstly, they spared ‘everything that was good’. We should add, everything that was good in their own eyes. Sparing these animals was not good in God’s sight. He values obedience more than burnt offerings (1 Sam. 15:22). Similarly for us: we demonstrate our love for God not by what we give to Him, but by obeying Him (1 John 5:3).
Secondly, we read ‘they were unwilling to destroy [them] completely’. Their refusal to obey was a conscious, wilful act. It’s easy to put ourselves in their position: here were these fit, healthy animals – why destroy them, when they could be useful, or be given in sacrifice? In a similar way, we often try to justify our disobedience – making excuses, when the reality is we are unwilling to give something up.
This attitude cost Saul the kingship. Let this be a lesson for us to obey God in everything He tells us to do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Whose business is it to judge?

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
Passing judgement is a topic that most people have a strong objection to. If they are confronted about some sin in their life, they might say, ‘But the Bible says, ‘Judge not, let you be judged’!’ (Matt. 7:1-2). But if that’s what Jesus really meant, why did He also give us a procedure for how to confront a brother about his sin, in Matt. 18:15-17?
In today’s verse, Paul makes a distinction in how we should and shouldn’t judge people. The distinction is quite clear: are they believers, in the church, or are the unbelievers, outside the church?
It’s not up to us to pass judgement on the sins of unbelievers. We are to leave that to God, knowing that He will bring judgement at the last day, and His judgement will be fair (John 16:8, Rom. 2:5, etc.). Instead, we are to share with them the gospel. This is what they need, more than giving up some sin or other. As the saying goes, you don’t clean the fish first – you catch it first, then you clean it.
However, we do have a Scriptural mandate for judging the sins of believers. In this particular instance, Paul was calling for them to punish a man who had taken his stepmother by putting him out of their fellowship. The reason we can do this is because believers ought to know better than to continue in sin.
Note that this judgement applies only to outward sins. We must not, because we cannot, judge somebody’s motives, because we can’t see their heart – only God can see what’s in their heart. But we can judge someone’s outward actions – and we must, for the health of the body of Christ.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sin in the church

“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” 1 Corinthians 5:6
The church at Corinth had a number of problems which Paul addresses in his epistles to them. One of the major ones was their open tolerance of sin. Paul highlights one sin in particular, calling it “a kind that does not occur even among pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1) – a certain man in the fellowship had married his stepmother. And the church, instead of condemning this act, embraced it.
We see similar things going on in various churches today. Homosexuality is celebrated, people seeking counselling are encouraged to divorce their spouse, and nothing is said that these things are wrong.
Paul calls them to account: “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” (1 Cor. 5:2). The church was proud that they were so tolerant. But sin is like yeast: if you let a little bit in, it will spread and permeate through everything. If we tolerate sin in our life, or in the church, it will infect everything and everyone. We all have certain temptations. And we know that as long as we give in to those temptations, the more we feed them, the stronger they will become. You can’t appease sin by feeding it once in a while. That is never going to make it go away. You need to starve it, and cut it off at the source, and set your heart and mind on following Christ and living in a way that is pleasing to God. Similarly in the church. If our fellowship is infected with some sin that is not being dealt with, or worse, celebrated, it will only weaken the whole body. Sin in the church needs to be dealt with in a Biblical and loving way. Yes, we all struggle with sin. But as long as we are struggling, it shows that we are resisting it. If we give in to it, then the battle has been lost.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Sunday

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
In this year’s Good Friday post, we read the first part of this famous section in Philippians, called in Greek the Kenosis (‘emptying’). But here we see the result of that emptying, that obedience of Jesus to the Father’s will. He was raised from the dead to sit at the highest place.
Just as the death of Christ is historical fact, so too is the resurrection. There were more than 500 eye-witnesses who saw Christ after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6), not counting the women at the tomb and the disciples. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems. We don’t follow the wise teachings of a dead man; we worship a risen Saviour. And one day, every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7), and every knee bow and tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord. The resurrection proves that Jesus is who He said He is – the Son of God, and that He has done what He said He would do – take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The bema seat judgement

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-13
In a previous post, we looked at the foundation that our Christian life must be built upon: Jesus Christ Himself. Now, let’s look at Paul’s teaching on the building itself, since he says, “each one should be careful how he builds” (1 Cor. 3:10).
Paul lists six things that can be used in the building. Three are good, strong, and of high value: gold, silver, and costly stones. Three are weak and of lesser value: wood, hay, and straw. The first three are able to withstand fire, but the last three are not. This is important, because fire is the means by which our building will be proven. Whatever remains after the fire will be reflected in our reward (1 Cor. 3:14).
Fire is symbolic in Scripture of judgement. However, the judgement in view here is not the Great White Throne judgement (Rev. 20:11-15), which is for unbelievers. In fact, the judgement here is not even for determining if someone is saved or not (see 1 Cor. 3:14 – ‘he himself will be saved’). This is a judgement to determine rewards, like the podium at the end of the race. In Greek, it’s called the bema seat.
Elsewhere in Scripture we read that our works are judged not according to what they were, or how many people saw them, but according to our motives. This is what determines whether our building materials are gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay and straw. A day is coming when the sum total of our works will be tested, according to the motives behind them.
They say, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. For salvation, the only thing that matters is that you are grounded in Jesus Christ as your foundation. For rewards, the only thing that matters is that the motives behind your good works are right and pleasing to God.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:6-8
As we remember the death of Christ this Good Friday,* there’s a lot to remind ourselves about. I still have to stop and marvel at the immense sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf. In every aspect of His life, He stooped lower than I can even imagine. The step down from being God to becoming man.** The step down from a man to a servant. The step down from a servant to a criminal condemned to die by crucifixion. We need to realise how repulsive this imagery is. Perhaps we’ve been desensitised, by seeing pictures of a serene Christ nailed to a cross, that we don’t see it for what it was: an instrument of torture. We forget about the cry He made in agony: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34).
Those condemned to die by crucifixion were paraded through the streets, forced to carry the crosses they would be crucified on. These were dead men walking. We know from Scripture that Jesus didn’t carry His own cross; the soldiers pulled Simon of Cyrene out of the crowd and made him carry it. This wasn’t out of the soldiers’ pity or honour for Jesus, nor did He walk majestically alongside. It was a matter of convenience and having to get the job done: Jesus was so badly weakened from His beating that He physically could not carry the cross Himself. We can contrast the pain that He experienced with the torment of hell that He has rescued us from. The external pain and burning that makes people grind their teeth (Matt. 13:42). The spiritual pain, separation from God for eternity. Jesus knew this was what was at stake. That’s why He took our place. Aren’t you glad He did? Spend some time today and thank Him for what He has done. The words you can formulate will probably feel inadequate, but do it anyway.

*I’m wording it this way as the timing of the Biblical account means Jesus probably wasn’t crucified on a Friday. But just as we can remember Christ’s birth on Christmas day even though that wasn’t the day either, we can use Good Friday as a time to reflect on His death.
**Jesus didn’t stop being God when He became a man, but He did choose to set aside His Divine power for a time and live in the strength of a man filled with the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The foundation of salvation

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-11
In Matthew 7 Jesus told a parable about two men who built houses, one on the rock, and the other on the sand. Although both houses were identical in every other respect, when the storm came, the house on the sand was destroyed while the house on the rock stood firm. The man who built the house on the rock represented someone who heard Jesus words and put them into practice, while the man who built the house on the sand represented someone who did not put His words into practice.
Here in New Zealand, we read hundreds of stories of people in Christchurch who are now having to deal with the consequences of building on reclaimed swamp land. They are facing the effects of ongoing liquefaction after 18 months of severe earthquakes. Their houses are all but destroyed, as the silt bubbles up, the houses sink, the walls are warped out of shape. It might have been easy to build there, but it has come at a cost.
Here in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul uses a similar picture of building upon a foundation, with that foundation being Jesus Christ. Without Him, it doesn’t matter how we build our life – all will be destroyed if we are not grounded on Christ the rock. Two people may give to charity, volunteer for meals-on-wheels, even go to church every week – none of this matters if they do not have the foundation of Jesus Christ. Here’s the question for all of us today: is Jesus Christ the foundation in your life? And how are you building? (We’ll discuss more on this aspect in a later post.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Moving on from sin

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.” 1 Samuel 12:20
Here in 1 Samuel 12 we have Samuel’s farewell speech to the nation of Israel as he was approaching retirement. He had thought his sons would succeed him as judges over the nation, but the people objected because his sons were corrupt (1 Sam. 8:1-5). Instead, they asked for a king, and God led Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Their asking for a king was sin, because the Lord was supposed to be their king. Instead of trusting Him to place godly leaders over the nation, they asked for a king: so they could be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:5). They had rejected God as their king (1 Sam. 8:7).
When Samuel pointed this out to them, and the Lord sent thunder and hail in cofirmation (1 Sam. 12:17-18), they realised what they had done was displeasing to the Lord. But this was not the end. Samuel gives them hope: They would still be His people, and He would still protect them if they continued to serve Him and not follow after foreign gods.
The same is true for us. Sometimes we commit sin that changes the course of our life permanently. It might be premarital sex, resulting in a child being conceived. It might be adultery, resulting in the dissolution of a marriage. There are some things that cannot be undone. But even though we cannot escape the life-changing consequences, if we repent, God will still forgive us. He did so with David (2 Sam. 12:13). And after you have repented, and received that forgiveness, the next step is to get on with life. God’s forgiveness is complete – He won’t bring up those things again, even though Satan will constantly remind you of them. The key is this: Don’t dwell on your past sins, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Your past might be a mess, but your future is glorious with the Lord.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Not men's wisdom, but God's power

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
Here Paul writes to the church at Corinth, reminding them of how he preached the gospel to them. He begins by saying how he did not speak with eloquence or superior wisdom. This doesn’t mean that Paul couldn’t speak with eloquence or wisdom; rather, he chose not to. In the book of Acts we read that Corinth was the next stop after his experience in Athens, at Mars Hill. Paul had been invited there to give a speech to the leading philosohers, and while we read that some people enjoyed listening to him and a couple even came to faith (Acts 17:32-34), we don’t read of a church being planted by Paul in Athens. Paul began his speech there by explaining that the Athenians, although they were religious and showed that they were seeking God, had not yet found Him (Acts 17:22-23). He presents fact after fact, linking each one logically with the next. Paul had grown up in Tarsus, and had been trained in the best schools of Greek thought. He knew how to present the gospel in a logical form.
Yet Paul did not use this approach when he arrived in Corinth. Instead, he said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The gospel can indeed stand up to logical scrutiny. But for a person to come to faith, there must be more than just their intellect involved. If someone can be persuaded into the kingdom, they can be persuaded out of it. This is why, when in Corinth, Paul didn’t preach about the logic that God exists, that He can be known, that He is able to raise the dead. He simply preached about the power of God, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is an important thing for us to remember when we are witnessing to people. Don’t appeal to their intellect. Don’t discuss intelligent design. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict them, because without the Holy Spirit working in their heart, drawing them to Christ, your words will have no effect. Tell them your own story, how the power of God turned your life around – they cannot deny you this. Tell them about the resurrection of Christ and the hope that you have. And pray, pray, pray!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hope, joy, and peace

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
This is a wonderful blessing that Paul prays that the believers in Rome might enjoy, and he uses several key words that can encourage us today.
Firstly he calls God the ‘God of hope’. Hope is a great thing that we have as Christians. It is not wishful thinking, but a confidence in future things that God has promised, knowing that they will come to pass. The primary hope that we have as believers is the resurrection (of Christ as the firstfruits, and of our own selves). Paul prays that as we trust in God, He might fill us with all joy and peace. Joy is different from happiness. You can be joyful even when nothing is going your way. Joy is not dependent on circumstances, the way happiness is; joy springs up from our relationship with God, and, again, the hope that we have. Peace is another wonderful thing that we can only truly know when we know God and have experienced His grace extended to us. We have hope, joy, and peace when we trust in God: the more we trust, the more of these things we have. And the result of this joy, peace, and hope, is to set us free to live a life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When our foundation is deep in God, we can weather any trial. We don’t have to fear, because we can see beyond it. God has promised to deliver us, and to save us for heaven.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Leave the judging to God

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4
It’s very easy for us to judge other people. It’s part of our human nature, driven by our flesh – the selfishness, thinking we are better than other people; the envy we have of other people who have more stuff or more abilities than us; the self-absorption that makes us think we are always right. All of these, if left unchecked, will lead to us having a judgemental attitude towards other people.
We might judge someone who is in ministry in our church. Perhaps you’re looking at someone, thinking, ‘I can sing better than them – why are they up there and not me?’ I must admit that I do struggle with this kind of thing from time to time. But it’s a verse like this one that puts me back in my place, hopefully the place God wants me to be. Those people who are serving in some ministry, are (or at least should be) serving the Lord. They are not serving you. Therefore they are not accountable to you, and you have no right to judge them. They are accountable to God, and He is the one who will judge them: rewarding them for their faithfulness, or rebuking them if they have acted with wrong motives.
Instead of judging people, we should seek to edify others. Paul went on to say, “Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13), and “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). If someone is serving with wrong motives, God will deal with them in His time. We are to leave the judging to Him, and get on with what He has called us to do.